Ninah Jackson said virtual learning in Prince George’s County provides freedom and flexibility within a student’s class schedule, especially with built-in breaks to not sit in front of a computer for several hours.
The negative effect produces no in-person social and emotional interaction with friends and teachers.
Fortunately for Ninah, she’s enrolled in only three classes: AP Calculus, organic chemistry and research practicum through the county’s science and technology program.
“Virtual learning is an adjustment for everybody. I’m definitely not an audio-visual learner. I’m more of a traditional learner. Give me a textbook and send me off to do what I need to do,” said the 17-year-old senior at Oxon Hill High School and student member of the county school board. “It’s hard to have that endurance to sit in front of a screen to internalize that information. I know it is hard for teachers to teach the content through a screen.”
Monday, Sept. 28 marked the fourth week Prince George’s public school students began the 2020-21 school year using strictly online instruction.
As of that day, health officials reported more than 285,700confirmed coronavirus cases in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.
With hundreds of thousands of students, and in some cases, parents at home either working or unemployed due to the pandemic, school officials continue to host virtual sessions to try and ease problems with the online form of instruction.
The Pew Research Center of Northwest completed a survey of U.S. adults between April 7 and April 12 that showed how would technology reach their children when schools resumed in the fall.
According to the center’s report released Sept. 10, about 80 percent of the 4,917 who participated believed school systems have a responsibility “to at least some of their students to provide computers or tablets to help students complete their schoolwork during the outbreak.”
Prince George’s officials distributed thousands of Chromebooks and tablets to students.
In addition, the school system paid Comcast Internet Essentials for almost 4,000 families and 5,00 Verizon hot spots so students can receive internet access.
Some students such as Jaylen Blocker, 17, already experienced some Wi-Fi problems that booted him out during classroom lessons on Zoom. Once internet connection returns, Blocker will email his teacher to explain what happened.
On a couple of occasions, the Parkdale High School junior used his cell phone to participate in class.
The school system uses an A and B schedule where students don’t take the same class daily.
Blocker’s enrolled in nine classes that include math, world history and drama. He also on the school’s football team and works at Outback Steakhouse in Largo.
“We get more work through virtual learning,” he said. “It can really mess you up.”
As for now, the more than 136,000 students in Prince George’s are scheduled to continue with virtual learning for nearly four more months.
County health, school and government officials will analyze in December whether to incorporate a hybrid structure with some in-person learning. If approved, students wouldn’t return to school buildings until Feb. 1.
The majority Black jurisdiction continues to record the most confirmed COVID-19 cases in Maryland.
“We think there is great risk involved in moving out of the posture we are in right now,” County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said during a COVID-19 briefing Thursday, Sept. 24. “We’re going to continue to make sure we keep the health and safety of our students, their teachers, administrators and family members in mind. We are not ready to go to the hybrid [model].”
Although students want to see their friends, health and safety remains the best option.
“I would love to get in the building as soon as possible,” Jaylen said. “But to be on the safe side, we should just wait until Feb. 1.”
Neighboring school systems such as Charles County in Maryland and the District of Columbia public schools are working to offer some in-person instruction later in the fall.
Another D.C. suburb, Montgomery County in Maryland, also plans to maintain virtual learning under the same time frame as Prince George’s.